Letter from Lieutenant Maurice O’Connell to Mrs. Ruth Leslie, 30 April 1915

SCN_0005 2-imp

 

Lieutenant Maurice O’Connell, of the Royal Fusiliers, wrote this letter to Mrs. Ruth Leslie of Cavan, Ireland to inform her that her son, Captain Frank K Leslie, had been killed in action at Gallipoli. The letter reads:

 

“30 April

Dear Mrs Leslie

I hope you will forgive me for having to write you such sad news, but I wish to let you know that Capt. Frank Leslie who commanded my company passed away peacefully on the 25th. His gallantry and coolness under heavy fire saved many lives. He ordered me to leave him and take some men back to another position to cover his retirement, and after I left him he was shot in the head. He suffered no pain. He was buried where he so gallantly fell.

Yours sincerely,

Maurice O’Connell

Lieutenant R. F.”

 

Captain Frank K Leslie, grew up in Cavan, Ireland, in Corravahan house and had two sisters, Madge and Joan Leslie. He attended Sandhurst Military Academy and upon graduation joined the Royal Fusiliers, one of the most distinguished British Army regiments, as a Second Lieutenant. Between 1907 and 1914 he served much of his time stationed in India, rising through the ranks to captain. After the outbreak of the First World War, his regiment was shifted to fight at Gallipoli.[1]

There are a few accounts of Captain Leslie’s service during the battle at Gallipoli. Leslie and the company of soldiers under his command landed at “X” beach at Cape Helles, Gallipoli, on the morning of 25 April 1915. They were successful in advancing up the cliffs and securing the initial set of Turkish trenches by nine o’clock in the morning. The Turkish forces rallied a counter attack though and by three in the afternoon had forced the Royal Fusiliers to retreat. Historians can gather from the letter above that Leslie ordered some of his men to fall back to a safer position and then to cover the remaining soldiers as they retreated back to reform the ranks. Sometime after the first wave of men had retreated Leslie was shot in the head and instantly killed. This may have happened as he left cover to attempt to retreat with the remaining group of soldiers.[2]

A year later, Captain Leslie’s sister Madge was visiting family in Dublin during the Easter Rising and wrote a detailed account of her experiences of Easter Week.[3] Madge and her family opposed the Rising, because they had family that had fought, and in the case of Frank, died in the First World War. Irish families with relations serving in the First World War were generally opposed to the Rising because they felt like it was a betrayal to those fighting for Ireland in the war. Many were fighting to earn the right for Ireland to be granted Home Rule, while others were fighting as proud subjects of the British Empire. In addition to this, Madge and her family were landed Protestant Gentry who believed that Home Rule under the British Empire was best for Ireland. This letter and the family that it is linked to, help illustrate the diverse dynamic of the political views in Ireland during the years of the revolution. No matter which side these men fell on in regards to fighting in the First World War, abstaining, or joining a Nationalist military group, they all believed that they were doing what was best for their countries future.

 

Notes:

[1] http://www.corravahan.com/?page_id=168

[2] H.C. O’Neill, The Royal Fusiliers in the Great War (London: W. Heinemann, 1922), viii, 90-93.

[3] Additional letters regarding Madge Leslies experience during the Easter Rising are in the authors private collection and will be examined at SIRHM on a later date

Leave a Reply